Eastern Europe and Danube River Cruise, April 2011Author: Tarheel72 (More Trip Reviews by Tarheel72)
Date of Trip: May 2011
• Background Information After many cruises we found we enjoyed smaller ships as opposed to the megaliners that are now in vogue. We wanted to see several European cities and decided a Danube River cruise would fit our needs and style the best. After research we narrowed it down to Tauck, AMA, Viking and Uniworld. The itinerary, sailing dates and chance to use a newer vessel made us decide to go with Uniworld. It was a good decision. We were very pleased with the experience and would not hesitate to sail with them again.
• Hotel Info (if any) We handled our own travel arrangements as well the pre and post cruise plans. We flew three days early into Prague and stayed at the Marriott Executive Apartments. They are located in a residential area a block off a main street with access to all forms of public transportation. The hotel is nice, quiet, and we had a full apartment style room. It was smaller but more than enough for two. They have a nice continental breakfast but we elected to buy items at the local market on the corner each evening and have breakfast in our room. We had lunches and dinner out. They have a very nice health club in the lower level. We had a corner room on the top floor, the fifth I think it was, and as such we had a roof top balcony, one of the only ones at the hotel. There is a local pub next door with good food and free wifi, so we avoided the in room access charges. The hotel is within easy walking distance of both New Town and Old Town and the streetcar runs direct to the Castle Hill area, so getting around is very easy. For a really great experience drop a few hundred dollars and have dinner on the river terrace at Kampa Park Restaurant. The view of the Charles Bridge at sunset is remarkable.
Post cruise we stayed three extra days in Budapest at the main Marriott directly on the river. It was a typical Marriott, with all of the amenities you would expect. Location was excellent. The staff was especially nice. We arrived about 10 AM in the morning and they had a room ready for us and we were able to check in right away. They have a large restaurant and bar area, including a large lobby bar, but we did not use either. Stay on the Executive Floor, the difference in price is worth it. You can easily have full meals with the food they put out in the lounge, and at night they have an open bar, with free beer, wine and liquor. And there is a large terrace the overlooks the river and the Buda side with tremendous views at night.
• Travel To Port of Embarkation We elected to provide our own transportation from Prague to Passau and arranged for Prague Airport Transfers to take us from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to Passau. We had them divert off the main route and allow us to spend three hours in Cesky Krumlov, which was well worth it. Don’t go to the Czech Republic without seeing it. We had a nice driver and he brought along his girlfriend to keep him company. His car was very nice. For extra excitement we were pulled over by the German Border Police after we crossed the border. He told us they sometimes did that looking for drugs or stolen cars. We had to get out of the car, hand over our passports and let the two undercover plain clothes police go through the entire car and check our documents. It only took about ten or fifteen minutes and it was a nice diversion. Embarkation was easy. More like checking into a hotel. They met us at the dock, took our luggage and we went to the front desk and checked in. We gave the steward our room number and he went to our room with us, brought our luggage along, and explained the room to us. Could not have been easier. Be aware that the ship does not dock in Passau but up stream in Lindau. That is about two miles from Passau. Around 7 PM they leave the dock and travel to Passau, where they dock overnight. You can leave the ship and walk around Passau if you want to and there are a few things to see within walking distance.
• Ship Info The River Beatrice is new, having been put into service in 2009, so this was the second cruise of her third year. Everything looked fresh and was in working order. It is well laid out and well suited for this type of cruise. The open deck on top is always available but we had some cooler weather so it was not used much on this trip, other than for viewing the locks and the Wachau Valley region as we were sailing along. The lower level includes a very small exercise area but we did not use it. I tried to use the tread mill but my head bumped the ceiling. There was an elliptical machine but I am not into that. No weights at all. There is a laundry room with multiple washers and dryers that are fee to use but you have to get soap from the front desk, but it is very inexpensive. Small library at the back of the ship with a small terrace off of it. Nice for relaxing and the best place to go for Internet. Two computers there that seemed to stay busy. My laptop got wireless quite well, we were even able to Skype from our room a few times. But it was better if we went to the library and accesses Internet there.
Refreshments were out all day, but only cookies and beverages. Nice dining room and nice lounge for port talks, entertainment, and just relaxing. A small boutique in the main lobby across from the front desk. There is a small elevator if you need it.
• Activities None to speak of, it is a river boat. They did have bicycles available and they were taken off and put out at every port. They were popular and you had to reserve one if you want to use it. Always a detailed port talk just before dinner. River cruises are about port activities so not much in the way of on board activity was expected. • Stateroom Overall a nice room. We opted for the lowest price with the French balcony and it was only steps from the front desk which actually proved to be very nice. We were close to the restaurant, the stairs and everything else. On the small side but normal for a river cruise. It was new so everything worked. Nice bathroom with a large walk in shower with a sliding door, but no tub. As for electrical outlets, they say they have US 110 volt outlets that will accept US plugs. They have three in the room but they told us only one, in the bathroom, would take items that were fixed 110. The other two were for electronics that would work on 110 or 220, like computers, chargers, etc. We discovered that the plug next to the bed was also labeled as 110 volt only, so my wife used her hair straighter there without problems. Warning: the plugs will not accept a grounded plug, just a straight two prong plug. The front desk may or may not have a converter for you, depends on how soon you ask for one. Good TV with several movie channels and plenty of English speaking channels.
• Service Overall, the best service we have ever had on a cruise. Not one bad experience. Wait staff was mostly Eastern European and they were excellent. Very friendly and spoke very good English. Not really a cabin steward like we were used to. Our room was always cleaned while we were out and if we came back and needed it they just left and returned later. Turn down service every night and thank God no towel animals. Cruise Director did a good job. Capitan was very nice, and mingled with the passengers on a regular basis. Once on top we were standing outside the bridge and I ask if my wife could have a picture with him. He got out of the chair and had her sit down and let me make a picture of the two of them. • Dining Full breakfast and lunch buffet served in the dining room. Wait staff took care of drink orders and clearing table and any special request. Always a good selection with some staples every day and some special selections that varied with the day and the location of the ship. You could eat light or really chow down if you preferred. Along with the normally included drinks, you get soft drinks at every meal and beer at lunch, along with beer and wine at dinner. Full service dinner with several options off the menu. Allow two hours for dinner. It is a great time to sit and enjoy your ship mate's stories. Open seating, mostly tables of 6 or 8 but a few 4's. We "bonded" with a few couples and tended to eat with them most often, but really changed it out so that it was always entertaining.
• Children's activities None. There were no children on our cruise. There were two grown daughters with their parents, that is as close as we got to children. Average age was probably 50, but it seemed to vary from 35 to 70. No walkers, oxygen tanks, or wheel chairs though.
• Entertainment Each night there was some entertainment after dinner, mostly local talent that boarded the ship that afternoon. They were pretty good for the most part. That was it. No bingo, newlywed game, etc. Book and magazines in the library along with board games.
• Port & Shore Excursions For the most part these were very good. The local tour guides were good. The Vox system where you have an ear piece to hear the guide works great. You can wander off and stop to take a picture and still keep up with the group. Because the guides were local each one seemed to want to tell you how their city was the most important one on the Danube. And Mozart lived in every city. Logistics were handled nicely by the ship and timetables were always maintained. We took one optional tour, to the castle in Vienna. We skipped the Mozart concert and went out on our own. Most people who went said it was nice but very crowded and hot. I think they felt like they had to say they liked it since they paid so much to go. If you must do this just get a ticket for one of the local ones that are sold everywhere in Vienna by street vendors.
Some tours had to be rerouted on the spur of the moment due to street closures for protests, marathons, etc. but they were well handled and we saw everything we wanted to see. We used a private guide service during our trip to Prague. On our stay-over in Budapest we use a private guide to take us on a countryside tour one day and also took advantage of the free walking tours offered in Budapest (Google it for details or check Trip Advisor). Passau was our least favorite port, because it was not that much to see there. Melk and Durnstein were really nice. We enjoyed walking the streets and meeting the locals and the tour of the winery was nice. Vienna is spread out but local transportation is easy and access is easy from the docks. Linz is OK for killing time shopping, but the main reason to be there is to take the bus to Salzburg so there is not that much time to anything but shop in the afternoon. Sailing through the locks is a nice diversion and worth being on deck, as is sailing the Wachau Valley. Of course there is much to do in Budapest. Be sure to visit a ruin bar and see the Jewish quarter.
• Disembarkation Uneventful. We were given plenty of options and since we were staying over we requested a taxi at 9:30. When our cab arrived they called the room and told us. Our luggage was with us the whole time. The taxi only went across the river to the Marriott, so it only took about 5 minutes but the charge was 20 Euros. I thought that was steep. We used another taxi that was at the hotel to go to the airport and the ride was much longer, took about 45 minutes and only cost 25 Euros. • Summary Overall we had a very good time and would not hesitate to sail with Uniworld again or to recommend this cruise. Do not be afraid to go out on your own in the ports. The bigger cities all have great public transportation that is easy to use and for the most part you can walk anywhere you need to go. The smaller cities are very nice for walking around and getting off the beaten path.
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